Posts By / Becca Edwards

Our strategic research clusters: introducing Virtual Production

Today’s blog post, written by Dr Richard Southern, introduces one of our new strategic research growth clusters, which is building on BU’s existing excellence in computer animation to forward research in the pioneering field of virtual production: 

Project Summary

This 3-year project establishes a Multi-Disciplinary Cluster of Excellence for Research in Virtual Production to develop the game-changing idea of Remote Production through strategic investment, enabling research to widen access, enhance sustainability, and explore applications, reducing barriers to entry and putting visual content creation in the hands of a wider range of storytellers and innovators.

Figure 1: Pre-Visualisation Demonstration. Image credit: Paolo Mercogliano, Diana Pelino, Anna Semple, Miguel Pozas, Joseph Adams and Nathalie Puetzer

Figure 2: LED Wall Demonstration. Image credit: Richard Southern.


Virtual Production (VP) defines a set of new production practices where practitioners work in and interact directly with a virtual set. VP reduces the need to move crews and equipment to location and enables remote working in VR, reducing CVD-19 risks, the environmental footprint, slashes production costs and upends the traditional production process by blurring the lines between production departments.

Evidence of sustainability of VP practices is already emerging studios and technology providers:

The logical next step in is to transition production in film, TV and broadcast media practices from those that are mainly facilities-bound to working environments that are remotely collaborative and thereby making the practices more sustainable. Examples of new technologies in this are virtual cinematography and VR puppeteering.

Previous Work

Virtual Production reframes games, virtual reality, and computer graphics technology in the context of production practice, allowing us to leverage our existing excellence and industry expertise in a booming sector. A myriad of applications stem from this including sustainable production, immersive storytelling, networking, ethics, digital heritage, collaborative visualisation and military, which broadens opportunities for collaboration across the wider the University. This project applies and develops research into areas for which BU is recognised internationally:

This project focuses BU’s existing research portfolio, supports ECRs and develops new research aligned with the identified themes to establish BU as a key partner in future industry and academic collaboration. Existing institutional resources include:

  • Thousands of students in complementary discipline areas who will collaborate and co-create content and undertake research with this technology, while entering the sector with a deep understanding of the sustainability implications of their practice.
  • Multi-disciplinary and industry-relevant skills and knowledge base in film, VFX and games production directly relevant to Virtual Production.
  • Current multi-million pound externally funded research projects aligned with applications in the Creative Industries (Centre for Digital Entertainment (EPSRC), Centre for Applied Creative Technologies (Horizon 2020), AniAge (Horizon 2020), VistaAR (Interreg)).
  • Industry standard facilities, including film studios, VR labs, motion capture technology, strengthening our research capacity in enabling experimentation and validation of production ready research projects to delivery high impact research.
  • Strong regional and national partnerships and alumni network in the Creative Industries.
  • Members are represented on BFI Albert, the National Standards Working Group in Virtual Production, and the StudioUK Skills Group. The NCCA is an Unreal Academic Partner.


Project Goals

After 3 years we envisage a Centre of Excellence in Virtual Production to deliver:

  • Impactful research outputs in virtual and remote production for enhancing productivity and sustainable working practices,
  • Grant capture with industry collaborators to tackle industry-relevant challenges,
  • A consortium of industry partners to advise activity in research, teaching and enterprise,
  • World-class research-informed teaching in this highly sought-after discipline area,
  • A demonstration facility showcasing our research and new technologies.



The Creative Industries contributes 6% of UK GVA, with estimated year on year growth estimated at 7.1%, and constituting 7% of global output in this sector. Global Virtual Production Market size is expected to reach £2.2b by 2026, rising at a rate of 14.3%. UK studios and core technology providers are global leaders in this space, leading to the Digital Catapult and Screenskills to identify this as a critical growth area. As of November 2020, there were 150 Virtual Production studios in the world, and 70 new sound stages have been designated for construction across the UK until 2023. This demonstrates strong commercial and UK government interest in leading advances in TV and film production, and has already attracted significant productions to move to the UK.

The Creative Industries have rapidly embraced this technology, and vendors and studios are moving swiftly to meet this new demand. Commercial R&D ranges from the cameras, tracking and LED walls to the software needed to drive the displays. Production companies are actively investing in R&D to gain competitive advantages, such as Mo-Sys Star Tracker, ILM’s Stagecraft and Bournemouth-based Tree House Digital’s custom drive train for filming vehicles.

Bournemouth has been classified as a high growth area in the Creative Industries, fuelled by access to talent from local Universities and geographic advantages. BU has ranked in the bottom 30% in terms of local growth and regeneration, and bottom 50% of working with business in the recent KEF exercise, presenting an opportunity for significant impact through regional growth.

This proposal seeks to address internal and external priorities: sustainability in the creative industries is an identified priority of BU, BFI and the Creative Industry Pact; production costs and finance are identified as one of the four key challenges facing the sector; innovative immersive applications are a UKRI priority; and post-pandemic business and production models are critical research questions currently facing the immersive technologies, particularly virtual production.

BU’s Strategic Investment Areas and our new research clusters

As articulated within BU2025, our Strategic Investment Areas (SIAs) build on our existing academic strengths and future opportunities aligned to external priorities, including policy direction and funding. BU Research Blog | How do I get involved with the Strategic Investment Areas at BU? Insight for academics and professional service staff | Bournemouth University

The four Strategic Investment Areas are:

  • Assistive Technology
  • Animation, Simulation & Visualisation
  • Medical Science
  • Sustainability, Low Carbon Technology & Materials Science.

These areas were developed in consultation with BU staff through the BU2025 planning process.

Since the launch of BU2025, we have developed the scope for each SIA and reviewed the relevant policy, legislation, networks/specialist interest groups as well as related growth/acceleration of areas of research for the UK, EU and globally. To date, two major new initiatives have been supported and enabled strategic University support, the Institute of Medical Imaging & Visualisation and the Institute of Modelling Socio-Environmental Transitions.

But what comes next? As we have explored before on the Research Blog, the creation of new knowledge is a fundamental part of what we do as a University. This is especially pertinent for BU given our commitment to fusion, meaning that everyone has responsibilities for research (alongside education and professional practice). Over the spring and summer of 2021, as we began to emerge from the initial COVID-19 related crisis, you may remember that we put out a call forward for Expressions of Interest for game-changing research concepts. Many brilliant ideas were forthcoming with a number of concepts identified as priority areas for support further to a competitive process. A series of blog posts will take you through them this week in more detail, but can be summarised in brief as follows:

  • Towards Remote Production: Multi-Disciplinary Innovation in Virtual Production to widen access, enhance sustainability and enable new applications; led by Dr Richard Southern
    • Virtual Production (VP) defines a set of new production practices where practitioners work in and interact directly with a virtual set. VP reduces the need to move crews and equipment to the location and enables remote working in VR, reducing CVD-19 risks, the environmental footprint, slashes production costs and upends the traditional production process by blurring the lines between production departments. The logical next step in the evolution of the discipline is to transition production in film, TV and broadcast media practices from those that are mainly facilities-bound to working environments that are remotely collaborative.
  • Advanced Manufacturing Ultrasonic Fatigue Prediction and Life Extension (ADDISONIC); led by Dr Diogo Montalvao:
    • Our mission is to reduce global waste by extending the life and enhancing the optimisation of engineered systems utilised in the medical, assistive technology, sustainability and low carbon sectors through incorporating novel advanced materials tested under ultrasonic fatigue for quick and reliable predictability of properties to extend their life”.
  • Multimodal Immersive NEuro-sensing  (MINE), led by Dr Xun He.
    • “The concept is to develop a pioneering Multimodal Immersive NEuro-sensing (MINE) system for the measurement of human behaviour and neural activities in realistic and controlled environments. Our concept will enable strategic research growth in multiple disciplines, with human signal measurement at the core of Assistive Technology (AT).”
  • Fish Ecology and Conservation at Bournemouth University (FishE@BU), led by Prof Rob Britton:
    • The Research Cluster for Fish Ecology and Conservation at Bournemouth University (FishE@BU) is being established to address a significant current global challenge: how can we manage and respond to rapid environmental change to prevent the collapse of aquatic ecosystems that is being driven by the dramatic declines in fish biodiversity? Correspondingly, FishE@BU is being established to help resolve this global crisis through the application of state-of-the-art spatial, behavioural, trophic and molecular ecology approaches to create significant new knowledge to increase contemporary understandings of, and help manage, the underlying causes of the on-going global loss of fish biodiversity. 

How can I learn more? 

Look out for the forthcoming blog posts that introduce these concepts and feel free to get in-touch with colleagues directly to explore the potential for collaboration. Furthermore, if you would like to receive details of forthcoming launch and networking events, please email:


Celebrating national Research Administrators Day! How have research administrators made a difference to you?

National Research Administrators DayLast Saturday (25th September) was national Research Administrators Day, so this week, RDS are celebrating the wonderful research administrators at BU that develop, support and enable research activity at BU. The breadth of activities that our colleagues play an important role in is extensive; from the development of funding applications (using the mind-boggling financial methodology and systems our funders require), the submission of complex returns such as the Research Excellence Framework  (apparently, it’s supposed to be less bureaucratic now?) through to the day-to-day management of grants (and if you’ve ever been involved in an EU audit, you’ll understand the complexities of this).nunziato caption contest

Allied throughout the research lifecycle are our specialists with expert knowledge in myriad of essential areas including technology transfer, research ethics, public engagement, clinical governance and the development of impact case studies. To name but a few!

Why do we need research administrators?

It wasn’t so very long ago that academics were expected to understand and execute all aspects of research and knowledge exchange. However, as the research ecosystem has matured and government investment has increased, professionalisation has accelerated. But why do we need specialist staff for this? Reasons include:

  • Our funders require it. Many (including UKRI, the British Academy etc) require applications to be submitted through a dedicated office having completed institutional checks (normally coupled with a complex set of systems to navigate). They also require many returns to be co-ordinated at an institutional level.
  • In a world where information is ever more prevalent, we have a key role to play in horizon scanning for policy developments and funding opportunities that will impact the University’s research trajectory.
  • We figure out how to make things happen (research projects, establishing new initiatives etc), co-ordinating across departments.
  • We engage nationally and internationally to embed good practice within BU.
  • We ensure our academic community can focus their precious time on making the magic of research happen; not reading the latest 4,691 page missive on the specificities of EU post-award processes* etcetera.

This is of course just a snapshot and if you want to read more, I’d suggest taking a look at this article published in Nature, which highlights that “With research administrators doing all that work, scientists can be left to do the good work they do in the world.”

How can I get involved in celebrating BU’s Research Administrators?

Research Administration is not a career for those seeking glory or riches, in-fact, it’s probably one of the worst career choices if either of those is your primary motivation.  So, what does motivate people to become research administrators? Over the years I’ve noticed that a lot of ‘Research Office’ staff (at BU and beyond) stay in the profession owing to a love of research and a desire to make a difference to society. My colleagues are also inherently helpful people who derive great professional satisfaction from solving tricky challenges to enable their colleagues and ensure the University progresses its research agenda. These unsung heros would never say it, but they so also appreciate to know that their efforts are noticed and valued by the community that they serve.

So, if you would like to celebrate our Research Administrators, please email me directly with your feedback on how important research administrators are to you, so I can share your comments (anonymously or not) with the wider team.

Personally, I would like to say a huge thank you to the wonderful team within RDS who I couldn’t be prouder to count as my colleagues. It is a diverse team that brings a breadth of expertise to the University, often working under considerable pressure with few resources. Congratulations to you all on National Research Administrators Day (week).


*I jest, but only slightly!

Postdoc Appreciation Week – thank you to BU’s amazing postdocs


This week is UK Postdoc appreciation week (PAW), a celebration of the fantastic contribution postdocs and researchers make towards research and academic life in general. It’s a special time to showcase, recognise, and celebrate their efforts, and thank them for all they do!

Originally an initiative from the National Postdoc Association in the USA (National Postdoc Appreciation Week), it is now also celebrated in the UK, with the first ever UK/ROI-wide events organised in 2020 by a consortium of UK and Irish Universities.

In 2021, it is taking place from Monday 20 September to Friday 24 September.

During PAW, please use #LovePostdocs and #NPAW2021 in your Tweets!

Online participation is encouraged, so please celebrate the postdocs in your life, or if you’re a postdoc, share your profile.

And on behalf of RDS, can I say a huge thank you to our amazing postdocs at BU; you are a critical component of our research ecosystem and inspire our department every day.

How do I get involved with the Strategic Investment Areas at BU? Insight for academics and professional service staff

Since BU’s strategic plan went live in 2018, one of the questions that I am frequently asked – in my capacity as a research manager – is how do I get involved in the Strategic Investment Areas? This is a remarkably tricky question to answer, as I’m always concerned that being overly prescriptive risks stifling creativity and innovation; and as such you won’t find a prescriptive list of ways to get involved in strategic growth. After all, we are a University, and not a sausage factory, so providing operational frameworks that assume certain inputs will lead to a set of standardised outputs, is far from appropriate.

I’ve also met with considerable antagonism over the years as to the nature of the SIAs with a common criticism that they focus on a small number of STEM orientated areas. As a social scientist myself (who spent ten years undertaking interdisciplinary research before stepping over to the ‘dark side’), I would dispute this perception, and would suggest that the scope of the SIAs is tremendous, and there is great contribution to be made from all disciplinary areas. I’ve yet to find any area of research which does not link, in some way at least, to the scope of the SIAs – although, feel free to challenge me! Much like undertaking public engagement, some disciplinary areas take a bit more creativity to make the connections, but it is always possible if you are willing.

But how do you make a meaningful contribution to strategic growth without a list of schemes, events and seed funding opportunities to feel as if you are ‘doing something’?  Here are some of my ideas, on how anyone from BU’s academic community can become more closely involved with the SIAs:

  • Get involved with an existing SIA-related initiative. They are all inherently interdisciplinary in nature, led and supported by welcoming colleagues. Details of the initiatives, including IMSET, IMIV and the ASV Network have been posted this week on the Research Blog.
  • Got an idea you’d like to pursue, or an area of interest and a skill set you’d like to contribute to something bigger? Get networking. Cross University strategic growth rarely happens owing to one individual working in isolation. One of the great joys of working in Higher Education is the ability to connect with a vast breadth of disciplinary and methodological expertise, and – perhaps more importantly – a set of colleagues with a passion for research and addressing the challenges that society faces.
  • Have an idea that has the potential to change the world? Tell the University about it so it can be enabled. We currently have an open call running for game-changing concepts so you can do exactly that. This is your opportunity to highlight what you could do and articulate what you need support with the achieve it.
  • Apply for external funding, be bold in how much you apply for and don’t think to yourself that it is ‘too early’ in your career. Funders, especially more ‘non-traditional funders’ are often looking for radical/innovative ideas to enable through funding and are often short of fundable solutions. Always ensure your application tells the funder how your research will enable their strategic aims and don’t assume they will be able to make the connection if you articulate your research interests and associated questions alone (i.e. without answering the question as to why it is beneficial to the funder to support you).
  • Build your external networks. In particular, consider how colleagues at BU can enable you to do this. For example, Dr Alastair Morrison – our International Partnerships Manager – does a fantastic job making connections between BU and Universities around the world. Ian Jones, our Head of External Engagement has an extensive contact book and is actively seeking ways to ensure he can enable our strategic research growth.
  • Build a digital presence by considering how you can reach out through the power of social media, including our very own research blog and your BU staff profile page (powered by In the world of digital marketing, content is so important (hello algorithms), so get yourself known and have confidence in your ideas.
  • Ask those outside of academia what the major challenges that they face are. This is can be such a rich source of inspiration. Industry captains may well be able to articulate a problem their factories have faced for years, or children may ask the seemingly obvious questions which require research to resolve. One that sticks in my mind from a child at a local event who asked, ‘why don’t we make prosthetics for racing horses rather than putting them to sleep?’ Why not indeed.
  • Prioritise strategic research growth, make a plan and find a way of sticking to it. It’s very easy for research dreams to ‘get lost’ in the day to day, with education and domestic duties seemingly endless. It is important to carve out the time to think creatively and to plan what you will do by when. And to paraphrase Sheryl Sandberg, done is better than perfect (perfectionism being so interlinked with procrastination).

This is not exclusive to our academic community; our professional services have an integral role to play in enabling strategic research growth. Without engaged professional service colleagues, we will not be able to fully realise the potential of our game-changing research ideas. Exactly how  research becomes a lived reality depends on the nature of research and specific operational support required, but an excellent first step is to listen to researchers on how your service (and associated processes and culture) can be a core enabler. Knowledge exchange between academics and practitioners is an area I am passionate about and one which I am always delighted to discuss further, in any fora. Looking at the trajectory of other institutions can also be inspirational: The University of Bath’s historic development provides a fascinating reminder of how Universities can grow rapidly to meet the needs of society; hundreds of years of history is not a pre-requisite for being a world-leading research institution.  The success of such institutions has not been based purely on academic strengths, but the collaborative cross-team working to make an ambition a lived reality. Good practice exchanges with counter parts in other institutions can help to reveal the most effective path forward, and the diversions that are best avoided!

Securing strategic growth is not easy; it presents many challenges to overcome which are intellectual and operational in nature. That said, the challenges these present can be instrumental in our development and capabilities in leading transformative research (see, for example, the concept of a Crucible). What I do know, is that since joining BU some nine years ago, confirmed by our most recent REF submission, I have seen the University grow exponentially from 2014 to 2021. As we look ahead to the future, I look forward to continuing to collaborate with colleagues. I firmly encourage you all to engage with our SIAs, and for us all to collaborate, not just to secure a strategic growth for BU, but also address the core challenges society needs us to.

The Institute of Medical Imaging and Visualisation (IMIV): getting involved with this SIA enabled initiative

The Institute of Medical Imaging & Visualisation (IMIV) has come to fruition thanks to a central University strategic investment and support from the Dorset LEP Growth Fund. A cross University team, and a series of new appointments, have worked tirelessly over the past two years to turn the concept into a reality. Having overcome the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Institute will shortly be opening its doors to progress the strategic priorities of the Institute.

Some of the first projects that will utilise the MRI scanner at the heart of the institute, stem from the internal pump priming scheme announced in late 2020 and include:

  • a project to investigate alterations in functional connectivity following therapeutic cold-water immersion (led by Professor Hana Burianova)
  • a study investigating the brain networks involved when two people work together responding to visual targets (led by Dr Xun He)
  • the investigation of a novel, cost-effective and non-invasive therapeutic intervention for individuals with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (led by Dr Rebecca Rendell) and
  • a group of lumbar spine 3-D scans to inform future grant applications for studies into intervertebral loading during spinal motion using MRI and our niche fluoroscopy technology (led by Professor Alan Breen).

Projects are also planned by Professor Carol Clark exploring the impact of sub-concussion on footballers and a pilot study on the feasibility of using abbreviated MRI for liver cancer screening for at-risk patients, led by Anmol Gangi and Dr Jamie Franklin.

Of course, the possibilities for research relating to advanced imaging are endless. As this article from the Chan Zuckerberg initiative articulates, the past, present and future of medical imaging is a truly fascinating endeavour, with endless possibilities for the future through interdisciplinary collaboration.

To forward future research, the IMIV team welcomes research collaboration ideas and colleagues across BU to access the research facilities housed by the institute. To learn more, read about IMIV on BU’s website or contact the core team directly on:

Research in the time of COVID: Insights from IMSET and opportunities for collaboration  

In this blog post, Dr Fiona Coward explores the profound challenges faced in establishing a transformative research agenda when you lose two seasons of fieldwork, but reminds us of the importance of undertaking activities which are energising and inspiring. On behalf of the IMSET team, she also invites greater collaboration to accelerate our research contribution as we look towards the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) later this year.  

Well, what a time to pick to launch a research institute! Back in early 2020, we were very excited to have recruited four great new colleagues to the brand new Institute for the Modelling of Socio-Environmental Transitions (IMSET) and anticipated great things… Little did we know. A year later, still in lockdown, we’ve learned a few things about doing research in the time of COVID. How do you do research in lockdown? As many have found, doing anything in lockdown can be tricky. The stress of life under lockdown during a global pandemic is enough to deal with on its own, and of course those of us with caring responsibilities have had other pressures. Add that to the extra time consumed by the frantic shift to online learning – the need to record and caption lectures and plan engaging interactive virtual sessions in lieu of face to face seminars, the additional time spent supporting struggling students… For many of us, research had to take a backseat simply because there were only 24 hours in a day and we were exhausted.  

There are more practical problems, too: some research simply can’t get done in lockdown. Computer modelling can in theory be done from home… but only if you have the data. Producing new data, however, is … well, tricky. To generate entirely new data on global ecology and human behaviour, there’s no getting around the fact that you need to get out around the globe. It’s impossible to understand past patterns of sea level rise in northern Vietnam without going out there and logging the coordinates of sea notches on the ground; likewise, understanding past environments around the long-drowned continent of Beringia which once connected eastern Russia and north-western America can’t be done without fieldwork to collect samples of ancient plants and animal species. And without access to labs and specialist equipment, it’s impossible to analyse samples and data collected previously. We valiantly battled this one: IMSET’s postdoc was faintly embarrassed to have a new fridge delivered to her house at the start of lockdown, worried she’d be accused of stockpiling food rather than needing space to keep temperature-sensitive samples that could – with difficulty – be studied at home. OK, well fieldwork could wait, yes? Well, no, not really … much of IMSET’s fieldwork is highly seasonal in nature. For fairly obvious reasons, it’s quite difficult to collect ecological samples from Alaska during the northern hemisphere’s winter. Likewise, tramping around Vietnam or Jordan in the heat of summer is definitely best avoided. So when the window of opportunity for one year expires, that’s it until the following year …. We assumed. Only to find ourselves still in lockdown a full year later: two field seasons down. Even with the vaccination programme rolling out relatively swiftly in the UK, travel to other countries will remain difficult; where vaccination rates are slower than the UK, ethically it will not be possible even for vaccinated British people to travel there and work with local teams for extended periods. Similar problems are faced by researchers in any field where data collection is time-sensitiveFor those of us lucky enough to be on permanent contracts this is a blow; without data, associated schedules of processing and analysis, writing up, publications, dissemination and other impact activity have to remain on hold., pushed back indefinitely. For those on fixed term contracts – PGRs and post-doctoral researchers – it’s a massive problem. Extensions to funding from UKRI bodies seem unlikely, but future employment and careers hang on presentations, publications, collaborationsIt remains unclear how these issues will be accounted for, going forward. 

Well, then perhaps we could use the time instead to plan future research projects, develop grant proposals? Well, maybe … The funding landscape changed dramatically during the pandemic, with available funding shunted towards COVID-related research. While to a certain extent that’s understandable, we do also need to keep focus on longer-term challenges – climate change, for example. That’s not going away, global pandemic or no! Grant proposals already under way slowed as we and our collaborators dealt with all the additional demands on our time and thinking; some proposals just couldn’t be progressed because they relied on pilot studies, originally planned for 2020, that had been put on hold; RKE, struggling valiantly with a raft of short-term COVID related projects with extremely short lead times, understandably had less time for support; uncertainties over HE funding in the short and medium term prompted more careful scrutiny of prospective bids, and put the kibosh on some which had been years in development. 

Grants already submitted now look out of date as they failed to foresee the coming global pandemic; ones being submitted now need careful consideration of the ways in which they can be adapted or modified in the event of ongoing global or local lockdowns and COVID mitigation measures. Reviewing and decisions about outcomes either way is also taking longer, as everyone deals with the same problems. The funding landscape of the future remains unclear, but post-Brexit and in the wake (hopefully!) of the pandemic ongoing economic concerns forcing difficult decisions (witness the recent withdrawal of the ODA money from already allocated projects!), we can expect big changes. 

The past year has been a difficult one for many. Time for research was squeezed or simply vanished as we tried to get our heads around phonics (yes – teachers are saints)remain sane as we watched the death count grow on a daily basis; worrabout our loved ones and wonder when we might get to see them again.   And yet research remains important, even – dare I say it – fun. Energising. One thing I have learned is that just as the best response to feeling run down and exhausted is – counterintuitively – to do some exercise, the best response to despair in the face of the impossibility – surely? – of research, is to dive back in. Finding it difficult to think deeply about anything right now? Time-limited? (I know I’m both!) One answer might be to create short stints of time in the madness to just chat about your research interests. Maybe it will, ultimately, lead to a formal project, or collaboration, or grant proposal …. And maybe it won’t, but perhaps that’s OK. It will kickstart your grey matter and – dare I say it – give you a chance to think about something other than the day-to-day grind of life in a pandemic, to chat with friendly colleagues facing the same problems, and to explore research and fusion-related questions, issues and themes without any pressure. OK, so research in the time of COVID is difficult – but it’s difficult for everyone. It’s not just you, promiseSo let’s work together to improve things. Remember when research was fun, not just another chore you had to squeeze into your overstuffed day? Let’s bring a little of that fun back again.  

Part of that joy – and growth from the adversity we encountered – comes in seeking out new collaborations and, with it, directions for future research, impact and engagement. Not least as the UK looks towards hosting COP26 and considering the impact of climate change once again. With that in mind, we would like to invite colleagues across BU and beyond to work with us. IMSET has a series of events in the pipeline which all are welcome to attend, and if you can’t make them then just drop us a line and we can catch up with a virtual coffee and chatWe’re interested in all things sustainability, from systems modelling to working with local communities across the globe to understand how people interact with their environments and to develop resilience and sustainability at the grass roots. If you work in any area relating to sustainability, human/environment relations, community engagement or beyond, drop us a line! Contact the core team, or email

The past year has taught a lot – one thing it’s made abundantly clear is the power and importance of researchNot all of us can directly work on preventing the next global pandemic, but COVID has also sparked a lively debate about the impact of human interactions with other animals and with the environment more generally; probably many of us can contribute in some way to this wider picture, so if you’re interested, get in touch and let’s help each other get through! 

SIA open call for game-changing research concepts: what could you do?

In today’s blog post, Dr Nicolette Barsdorf-Liebchen, our Research Facilitator for Animation, Simulation & Visualisation explores game-changing research ideas that have come across her desk. To learn more about the call for game-changing research concepts, see our blog post on where to find out more information. 

“In case you are not quite sure just how game-changing your research ideas are, here are some examples randomly culled from the many diverse current projects around the globe to guide and inspire you. Some may even relate to your own field, and provide an indication as to possible directions in which you could drive your research. All game-changing ideas require interdisciplinary collaboration nowadays. The ones below typify projects which integrate two or more of the SIAs, and so represent paradigmatically the type of game-changing ideas we seek to support. Read, and be inspired!

Innovative Technology in the Manufacturing Industry

In their article “Augmented Reality – A Game-Changing Technology for Manufacturing Processes”, Kohn and Harborth (2018) explain that current research has shown that in the digital era companies are experiencing ever-increasing pressure to be both more productive and produce better quality goods while simultaneously cutting costs. The integration of innovative new digital technologies throughout the manufacturing process is now crucial, requiring fundamental transformation in businesses to cope with these increasing requirements, and continue to be competitive. The current integration of such an innovative technology like, eg., augmented reality in the manufacturing industry has a significant impact on different work processes, improving production operations and especially assembly processes, while applied AR solutions involve maintenance and inspection processes. If you think you may have just such an industry solution, let it wing its way to us via your EoI!

Digitalisation and Sustainability

Digitalisation towards sustainability is a rapidly-growing area of research and innovation around the globe (Seele and Lock, 2017), and if you are not on board, you will surely get left behind! E-health services, robotics, emission reduction solutions, and so forth, are all areas of vibrant development geared towards helping ourselves and saving our planet. Sustainability is the buzzword, and rightly so: our survival literally depends upon making almost every area of our lives sustainable. However, the overall “sustainability gap” (Lubin and Esty 2014) continues to be a major issue. As Seele and Lock (2017) observe, “The overconsumption of natural resources and its harmful consequences threaten the basis of our existence and that of future generations”. If you wish to be part of the global mission to achieve a more sustainable planet in light of the sustainable development goals, gear your idea in this green direction. Any research which targets strategic innovation via digitisation in the services of sustainability is by its very nature game-changing research.

Urban Design and Spatial Development

One striking Leverhulme project we have found which inspires us concerns urban design. We love Professor Marion Roberts’ award-winning project. She describes it thus: “Urban design as a practical activity can be loosely described as three-dimensional town planning. Urban designers set out the framework for the spatial development of urban places, at scales ranging from a whole town down to an urban square. This ‘specialist-generalist’ activity covers a complex assembly of agendas, as it tries to accommodate buildings, hard and soft landscaping, transport and movement systems and of course, people in all their diversity. Contemporary urban design theory and practice has largely avoided the night as a time-space…” This project focusses on the dark side and is thus a game-changer in terms of frameworks for urban design. (

Early Learning with Technology: Determining the Most Effective Use of Digital Learning Tools

The Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington describes 6 game-changing projects upon which its scientists are currently working. One of them concerns children and early learning with digital technology ( Children are our future; we all know that. They are the ones to inherit this besieged planet and find messianically redemptive solutions for its diabolical troubles. So, from an ASV perspective, how do children benefit from the use of AR/VR technology in particular? Given that our visual sense is central to our learning processes, what we discover in experimenting with how children interact and learn with AR/VR could be used “to refine learning technologies, from computers to mobile phones, in ways that promise personalized learning in developing children”. CV-19 has required a rapid step-change in the further development of these tools, and the pedagogic research surrounding their use in early education. Let your ideas plug into the demand!”

The SIA call for game-changing research concepts: insights from the Institute for the Modelling of Social Environmental Transitions

In this guest blog post, Dr Emma Jenkins, outlines how a concept for interdisciplinary research has become a lived reality through a previous SIA EoI open call… 

The Institute for the Modelling of Socio-Environmental Transitions (IMSET) started off as a vague notion of where the field of archaeology is heading and where BU’s Department of Archaeology & Anthropology could make a significant contribution. The core challenges facing the world are summarised in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The problems behind most of these challenges, however, are neither modern nor restricted to the present – some have long histories that set the world on the trajectory it currently is while others are known to have already challenged communities and societies in the past. This is as true of the recent historic past, as it is of the deeper timelines of prehistory. IMSET was conceptually founded on the notion that we can learn from these past occurrences of socio-environmental transitions, and that what we learn from them can be useful for present and future challenges facing the world. Archaeology, anthropology and palaeoecology can contribute the necessary data, whereas computational modelling and analysis can help shed light on the complex dynamics of the interactions and bidirectional impact between people and their ecosystems.

These ideas gathered momentum with the first BU’s Strategic Investment Areas call for Expressions of Interest in 2018. What was but a vague notion to begin with, developed into a proposal to create a multidisciplinary research institute that straddled the fields of archaeology, anthropology, ecology and computer science with the aim of furthering our understanding of how human societies responded to climate and environmental change in the past in order to provide insights into how modern societies can adapt to the challenges facing them. This was a bold request which, to both our surprise and delight, was picked up to be developed into a Full Business Case in 2019 which enabled the creation of IMSET.

The development of IMSET was a team effort. We were one of the first projects to be asked to complete a Business Case and the first to be supported under the SIA call and, as such, we could be described as ‘lucky guinea pigs’! Some of the procedural ‘hoops’ that we needed to jump through were not really suitable for our purposes and we were also met with one or two ‘surprise deadlines’ but colleagues in RDS and the OVC went above and beyond to support us with some of these challenges. We also, all, learnt a lot from this process and our understanding is that the application procedure is much more transparent and streamlined than it was back in 2019. As an institute we have, on the whole, been fantastically supported throughout this journey by professional services staff across BU and our advice would be that if you have an idea, no matter how vague or crazy, you should go for it. If there was one piece of advice we would give, it would be don’t start a new research institute, that is predicated on the need for over-seas fieldwork and international collaboration, right at the beginning of a global pandemic! Otherwise Good Luck!

At BU we are keen to foster amazing, game-changing, transformative research ideas, so if you have one we would love to hear from you. You are invited to put forward your ideas through the current Strategic Investment Areas (SIA) EoI call for transformative research concepts, aimed at providing the dedicated, tailored support to make your research ideas a reality.

To learn more about the call, sign-up now for one of our open briefing sessions or learn more on the staff intranet.

If you would like to learn more about IMSET or collaborate directly with the team, email Dr Emma Jenkins or see their webpages

SIA open call for game changing concepts: Hear from BU collaborator, Paul Brookes from Siemens, about the future R&D needs of industry

Bournemouth University is delighted that Paul Brookes, Head of Innovation, Siemens ITS at Siemens Mobility Ltd, will be providing an open briefing session to BU on Thursday 15th April at 12noon. He will explore current research priorities before an open Q&A session. This online event will be chaired by SIA Conveners, Professors Christos Gatzidis and Kate Welham.

Paul’s experience spans three industry sectors: computer systems, motion control and intelligent transport systems. He has specialties in broad and deep understanding of electronics, embedded software, cloud (AWS), people management, employee development, competency frameworks, networking, design thinking, innovation and business development. Paul is currently working on 5G, IoT, connected car, infrastructure as a service, cooperative perception and AI.

Paul works closely with BU, is an External Advisory Board member for Animation, Simulation & Visualisation SIA, and has kindly agreed to provide insight from his experience as to the future research needs of industry.

This is an opportunity to develop expressions of interest for the SIA open call for game-changing research concepts.

To register for this open session, please email to receive the diary invitation and video conference link.



Defining BU’s research future: what could you do?

If ever there was a year in which technology has transformed the ways in which we live our lives, it has been 2020-21. Gone are the meetings in formal committee rooms, and the casual chat with a colleague over a cup of coffee, and enter the plethora of video conference facilities that now shape our lives.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of this to me (as an entirely biased social scientist!) is how the challenge that society faces, combined with the technology at our fingertips, has led to profound (and I suspect long-lasting) shifts in our social practices. But how will technology change our lives in future?

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport have recently released a guide detailing their top 10 Tech Priorities, summarised as follows:

  1. Rolling out world-class digital infrastructure nationwide
  2. Unlocking the power of data
  3. Building a tech-savvy nation
  4. Keeping the UK safe and secure online
  5. Fuelling a new era of start-ups and scaleups
  6. Unleashing the transformational power of tech and AI
  7. Championing free and fair digital trade
  8. Leading the global conversation on tech
  9. Levelling up digital prosperity across the UK
  10. Using digital innovation to reach Net Zero

Arguably, whilst none of these are new/surprising thematic areas, they do – in themselves – embed challenging research questions in which academic research will be integral to secure and progress societal expectations.

Furthermore, although they are labelled as ‘tech’ priorities – for me, they are inherently interdisciplinary in their very nature. Effective leadership and engagement surely requires a multidisciplinary approach, achieving net zero won’t happen with technological solutions alone – we will also need profound social change. Barriers to start-ups and scaleups aren’t necessarily owing to a lack of innovation, but around how IP is protected, understood and shared.

As a community of researchers, it is important that we consider and challenge the technological imperative and draw upon our interdisciplinary strengths to contribute effectively to our future. What could you do to contribute to this agenda and progress academic research with it? Do you and your collaborators have fundamental research questions that could provide this insight, that as a University we can support you in developing? If so, could you consider developing an EoI for our next SIA open call for concepts?

BU is committed to nurturing the game-changing research concepts which will define our future, through our Strategic Investments Areas (SIAs). To learn more about the current SIA EoI call for transformative research concepts, sign-up now for one of our open briefing sessions or learn more on the staff intranet.

SIA open call for game changing research concepts: what could you do? Sign up now to find out more!

Last Friday, we announced the call for game-changing research concepts to enable the growth of BU’s Strategic Investment Areas.

This is your opportunity to put forward the concepts for which BU will be known in the years to come. Concepts that are prioritised for development by the SIA Steering Groups, will benefit from tailored institutional support to turn your idea into a reality.  This could include identification of match-funding, support from estates, personalised funding development support and much more – you tell us what you need!

 Game-changing research concepts are welcomed from all of our academic community across all career stages. 

To learn more about the SIAs, the open call and to discuss what you could do, read further details on the staff intranet and sign-up for sessions now by emailing 

Briefing events are taking place on the following dates:

  • Medical Science SIA briefing session, led by Prof Stephen Tee – 9.30am on 6th April
  • Animation, Simulation & Visualisation SIA briefing session, led by Prof Kate Welham – 10am on 7th April
  • Assistive Technology SIA briefing session, led by Prof Christos Gatzidis, 10.30am on 22nd April
  • Sustainability, Low Carbon Technology and Materials Science SIA briefing session, led by Prof Richard Stillman, time and date TBC

General drop in-sessions for any queries, to discuss potential ideas or to identify potential BU partners are taking place on the following dates/times supported by SIA Steering Group members and RDS staff:

  • 1st April at 2pm
  • 8th April at 2pm
  • 19th April at 11.30pm
  • 29th April at 2pm

Email to get your diary invitation now!


Call for game-changing research concepts in 2021

What could you do to change the world? Call for expressions of interest to develop the Strategic Investment Areas is now open!

The University is now looking for amazing, game-changing research ideas to enable us to grow as an institution, enrich our education and have a demonstrable impact on society. To enable this to happen, we have four Strategic Investment Areas (SIAs), each with a broad scope that is inherently interdisciplinary in nature.

We now invite you to put forward your ideas and help bring these areas to life. These will be reviewed by our SIA Steering Groups and our SIA External Advisory Boards before the University Leadership Team endorses the strongest concepts for development.

If successful, you will then receive dedicated, tailored support to turn your research concept into a reality. This is your opportunity to grow an area of research for which you and BU will be known for in the years to come.

What is a game-changing research concept?

This is the big question and the answer is that we don’t know until we know! In order to ensure that our brightest and best minds have an equitable opportunity to put their ideas forward to become institutional priorities, each year, the University – facilitated by Research, Development & Support (RDS) – makes a call for ‘game-changing’ research concepts that will enable the growth of one or more SIA. This is open to all academic staff (including research staff).

Successful concepts are those which enable the growth of the SIAs (as defined by their scope), accelerate institutional research and knowledge exchange income, advance interdisciplinary research and deliver societal impact. EoIs are welcomed from all academic career stages and disciplines– especially from under-represented areas (as it is essential that our future research trajectory reflects the diversity of society).

It is intended that these concepts will be the legacy by which BU is known for post 2025, and the opportunity to develop the scope of the SIAs is a career enhancing opportunity.  Leaders of these strategic concepts for growth need to be committed to utilising the institutional support offered in order to make the concept a lived reality making a demonstrable difference to society through the acceleration of world class research.

To learn more, and to apply, please read the policy document and complete the EoI of interest form.


What is the process and the timescale?
Applications for EoIs are now open, with a closing date of Friday 30th April 2021. SIA Steering Groups will then review the concepts and agree which are prioritised for review by our External Advisory Boards. Shortlisted applicants will then have the opportunity to revise their EoIs in light of any feedback, before the final concepts are selected for enhanced institutional support in August 2021.

Do I have to be a Professor to apply?
Absolutely not! (Although, of course, our professorial colleagues are very welcome to put forward brilliant concepts). We actively welcome EoIs from all career stages, especially early to mid-career researchers. We also actively encourage applications from colleagues with protected characteristics, in recognition of the importance of growing a diverse research community that reflects wider society.

The titles of the SIAs sound very science based, am I eligible to apply if I work in the arts, humanities or social sciences?
Of course. We strongly encourage input from all disciplines, but more crucially, interdisciplinary research collaborations.

What sort of institutional support is on offer at the end of the process?
It will depend on what you need to make the concept a reality. Read the policy document available on the staff intranet for further details.

I’m really interested, but I’d like to learn more, what can I do?
We have a number of virtual drop-in sessions which you can attend over the next few weeks. These include:

  • Briefing sessions for our external partners on their future research needs
  • Briefing sessions from our SIA Steering Groups
  • Drop in-support sessions from RDS

If you would like to receive details of any of these, please email

Can you give me some examples of ‘game-changing’ research ideas?
There are many sources of inspiration, you might like to ready more about research which started at the University of Oxford, the Made at Uni campaign, University of Loughborough’s game changers or search some of the REF 2014’s highest performing impact case studies.

BU research matters: “The best of times, the worst of times….”

In the final blog post of the week in this series, Dr Ashok Patnaik, shares his insights into overcoming the challenges associated with undertaking social science research during a global pandemic including how he has challenged boundaries in research ethics to ensure research critical for the future of our children can progress. Ashok also openly reflects on the personal challenges the past year has brought and how he drew on the support around him to grow personally and intellectually:

Ashok PatnaikThe lockdown period has been difficult in some respects but also wonderful in some others. It has offered plenty of opportunities for reflection and growth, as a researcher and as a human being. Strange though it may be to say it, it has been very timely and fortuitous in some ways because these extraordinary circumstances have enabled me, and the team I am part of, to achieve things which, during normal times, may have proved much more difficult. Thus, to paraphrase Dickens, it has been the worst of times, and it has been the best of times.

I have the great fortune of being part of a brilliant academic team based in the BUBS which is working on the evaluation of an exciting movement-based mental health intervention for primary school-aged children called ‘Stormbreak‘. As part of the evaluation of Stormbreak, we use a range of data collection methods but the centrepiece of the evaluation is the child well-being survey. We use a pre-post study design for the survey, and had completed the pre-intervention survey in January, 2020.

The immediate impact of school closure in March last year due to the lockdown was the inability to complete the planned second leg of the survey (the post-intervention survey). This was scheduled for the end of the school term (late March). As a result, we had an incomplete dataset and could not calculate the change scores needed to evaluate the impact of the intervention. This meant that we could not add new data to the impact report. This affected our partner organisation’s ability to demonstrate the effectiveness of the intervention and slowed down the expansion of the programme which had begun gathering pace before the lockdown.

While this was, undoubtedly, regrettable, the lockdown proved to be a blessing in disguise in many ways. Doing research with children in schools involves many challenges, but the biggest bottleneck for us was obtaining parental consent. The majority of parents did not respond to schools’ invitations to take part in the study. Our participation rates ranged from 10% to 40% (at best). We were losing a lot of participants. The necessity of contacting parents repeatedly through multiple communication channels was adding extra work for schools and making them re-consider their engagement with the evaluation. The new pressures on schools that arose in the aftermath of the pandemic were fast making the consent process untenable. The viability of the whole project was at risk. We knew that we had to do something.

The principal obstacle was the strong and near universal consensus on active parental consent in research with young school children. The new requirements brought in by the GDPR had reinforced this consensus and made it a kind of orthodoxy. However, there were also several examples of eminent research institutions such as UCL, LSE, and other organisations conducting research on behalf of the UK Government and the Department of Education such as Ipsos-MORI and NatCen bucking the trend and relying on a passive parental consent approach. We knew that we had to move to the latter approach, but given the widespread and strongly entrenched belief in the necessity of active parental consent, we knew that we would have to prepare a compelling case to persuade the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Ethics Panel (SSH REP) to consider our request. It was a daunting task.

Thankfully, the lockdown period gave us the time and the space to work, without distraction, to amend the ethics process. It was a period free from the short-term pressures of data collection. During the peaceful, quiet months of the lockdown, we were able to marshal a wide-ranging body of evidence and a number of strong arguments to support our case for passive parental consent for the child well-being survey. Professor Michael Silk, Dr. Daniel Lock, and I collaborated on this work, which eventually turned into a Master’s Dissertation-length essay, perhaps the longest application considered by the SSH REP.

Our work bore fruit, and our application was reviewed favourably by the SSH REP. We are very grateful to our excellent SSH REP, especially the Chair Professor Jonathan Parker and the Deputy Chair Professor Richard Berger, and Ms. Sarah Bell, for their sympathetic consideration of our application. Their supportive decision removed the biggest constraint on the growth of the study and restored its viability.

With the end of the lockdown in September, we resumed data collection. However, schools’ new risk assessment policies made access to schools difficult. Professor Silk foresaw the need to adapt our ways of conducting the study. He recognised that the previous approach, which involved my visiting schools in person to administer the survey, would not be feasible in view of the restricted access policy of most schools post-pandemic. Further, as the Stormbreak programme scaled up and expanded nationally, personal visits would not be practical. Professor Silk saw the need to fully digitise the conduct of the survey.

Thus began our second major endeavour – to fully digitise the administration of the survey. We worked with the fantastic Red Balloon Media Production Team, headed by the highly creative Stephanie Farmer, and with the brilliant graphics designer and computer programmer Vitor Vilela. With their support, and that of the exceptionally helpful Stormbreak team (especially Dr. Martin Yelling, who kindly and patiently recorded, and re-recorded, and re-re-recorded parts of the script with his children), we have worked through the winter months to create an engaging, child-friendly digital solution, consisting of fun videos and a snazzy questionnaire. This was uncharted territory for us. Thanks to Steph’s and Vitor’s understanding and patient approach, we learnt about this new field and have together produced a digital version of the study that we feel genuinely excited about, and which, we feel, will assist materially in conducting the study remotely. It was also pleasing to note that, in digitising the study processes, we were able to make them more efficient and streamlined.

Personally, the lockdown has been, by and large, a happy period. Relatively free from the administrative work involved in data collection, I have been able to focus on what I love best – quiet periods of reading, thinking, and writing (what the author Cal Newport calls ‘deep work‘). I have been able to live a quiet, productive, monastic life, largely free of disturbance. With the end of the lockdown approaching, that blissful period is ending fast. Over the last two years, balancing the short-term work of data collection (along with the administrative work involved in running a project) with long-term work (skill development, working on journal articles, applying for research funding) has been a constant challenge for me. During the last few months, I have experimented a lot with my routines and have become a little better at organising my work so that I am addressing both short-term and long-term work needs. The flexibility of working at home, and the time and energy saved from not having to go to the office have helped a lot in this regard.

My experience during the lockdown has kept the subject of mental health at the forefront of my mind. Like others, I have struggled at times with isolation and loneliness (especially when I returned from leave and was in quarantine). The lockdown has also clearly reinforced the incredible importance of physical activity in creating positive feelings. Running or playing basketball or Table Tennis brought a smile to my face on days when there were few other things to feel happy about.

There was a period of about ten days during the summer when my mental health was severely affected. It was a very difficult period. What helped me most during this time was conversations with family members and the support of my line manager, Professor Michael Silk. He very kindly and swiftly sourced support for me from the BU Employee Assistance Programme. He was there for me, and his support taught me an important lesson about leadership, loyalty, and caring. The lockdown has also made me recognise the importance of communities – personal and professional. It has helped me gain perspective and see more clearly what truly matters in life and to make space for it in my calendar. The challenge will be to remember those lessons and keep them uppermost in my mind as we move towards normality and the old, all-too-familiar pressures attempt to sway me from the high road. Already, I can see myself slipping back into old, unproductive routines as the urgent crowds out the important. This battle will continue for a long time.

In summary, I would say that I feel incredibly grateful for the unexpected opportunities resulting from the lockdown. There are things I have accomplished with others during this period which would not have been possible but for the unique circumstances created by the lockdown. There have been ups and downs, but many, many more ups than downs. On the whole, I find myself having grown and matured significantly – as a researcher and as a human being – during the last year, and I would not trade this experience for anything.”

BU research matters: Tectonic shifts within and beyond BU

Bio | Roman's labDr Roman Gerodimos is an Associate Professor of Global Current Affairs in the Faculty of Media & Communication. In today’s blog post he reflects on the seismic shifts the pandemic has accelerated in research practice and the serendipitous benefits of this change: 

“The pandemic forced us to adapt and transform the way we do research, teaching and professional practice across the board. The restrictions to domestic and international travel have eliminated physical conferences and workshops, and have severely limited the amount and types of fieldwork we can carry out.

Yet, at the same time, we have observed the emergence of two very important trends: new modes of dynamic, collaborative research work and mutual support within BU; and an exponential increase in opportunities for participation in external events, which can greatly boost our global engagement.

Within BU: last summer, along with a few colleagues at the department of Communication & Journalism, we started to organise Virtual Research Days. We “borrowed” the format of our Writing Retreats – which in the good old days used to take place at the Miramar and the Green House Hotel: we picked a day of the week, then blocked our calendar for 5 hours (10am-3pm), joined a Teams call and had two focused sessions (10.00-12.15, 12.45-3.00) on a piece of research that we had chosen (this could involve any research-related task, from a bit of data analysis to writing a few paragraphs, and from sending emails to co-authors to reviewing a journal article). We used the first 15 minutes of each session to share our goal for the session with our colleagues, and the last 15 minutes to debrief and reflect on how the session went. The rest of the time we worked individually, with email and phones being switched off.

This simple format worked wonders: our productivity immediately shot up, while our short reflection session proved invaluable. I think I now understand more about my colleagues’ individual research interests and projects than at any other time over the last 20 years at BU, while seeing how everyone struggles with and overcomes creative, intellectual and practical barriers has been really interesting and made this work feel less solitary. Our summer ‘retreats’ became so successful that we decided to pilot and then formally roll them out throughout the academic year, so we now have at least one designated day each week for C&J colleagues and PGRs to come together and work on their research.

We have seen similar patterns across all our research sessions: attendance in our research seminars, research practice seminars, lunchtime sessions, and even our various conferences and workshops has been higher than ever, as the online format makes them much more accessible to people who may not be on campus, while it also allows participants to multitask and join conversations as needed, none of this would have been possible in the conventional physical format.

Beyond BU: the shift to online events has removed physical access barriers making both them and us available to a global audience. During the last few days, I have given a talk at Oxford University, delivered a keynote at a TechCamp conference organised by the US State Department, met with stakeholders from the European Parliament and Transparency International, participated in seminars with leading journalists from all over Europe, and next week will be giving an endowed lecture and doing a separate film screening and Q&A at Simon Fraser University in Canada. Last summer and autumn, I spoke or participated at countless conferences, seminars, book launches and media interviews organised by a very diverse range of external stakeholders, while I now get an average of one invite a day. Obviously, giving Zoom talks is not quite the same as being in Vancouver or Washington DC or even Oxford, and the convenience of doing this from home does change the cost/benefit calculation, putting a lot of pressure on us as academics to accept invites. But, while nothing can replace the experience of physical co-presence and the importance of random encounters that come with travelling, the opportunities for global engagement and networking are very significant.

All these tectonic shifts in our research practice happened within an extremely compressed period of time: academia’s equivalent to ‘overnight’. Seeing the way our teams have come together and embraced this new mode of working, as well as the opportunities for outreach and engagement that this has created, has been quite affirming and, despite all the challenges that we have been facing, makes me feel very optimistic about our future as a research community.”

BU Research Matters: ADRC adapt their approach in the time of COVID-19

In today’s blog post, Dr Michelle Heward, explores how the fantastic work of the Ageing & Dementia Research Centre has adapted to enable community engagement during the pandemic. Our older population, especially those who are extremely clinically vulnerable, have risked not being able to participate in shaping our future research owing to the restrictions in place over the last year. This engagement aspect is so important for ensuring research benefits society, and offers the bonus of social interaction for those who are having to isolate! Here Michelle explains how it is done: 

Michelle Heward

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on face-to-face interaction. To meet UK Government guidance and stop the spread of the virus, we have been unable to meet up with family, friends, and colleagues in the ways that we are used to. For older people, people with dementia and family carers, this has exacerbated many existing difficulties and problems they face, whilst also further intrenching feelings of loneliness and isolation. Technology has been a saviour for many and has proved invaluable in connecting people with their loved ones. The team from the Ageing and Dementia Research Centre (ADRC) have overcome the barriers by using digital approaches to continue our engagement and expand our networks with members of the public, service users and carers.  We have achieved this by developing a new series of monthly virtual ‘coffee mornings’ hosted on ZOOM.

We have designed each coffee morning to have a different theme/topic that may be pitching new ideas for research or sharing new findings. The group are invited to share their ideas, thoughts and ask questions. Ensuring that older people, people with dementia and family carers remain at the heart of our research activities has been central to the coffee mornings. The sessions have been well attended and the group have really engaged with the research topics and attendees are starting to get to know one another socially – many are returning each month which is fantastic!

So far, the group have contributed to discussions about nutrition with Prof Jane Murphy and wayfinding with Prof Jan Wiener. In the next session they will discuss nursing training in response to COVID-19 with Dr Michele Board. The discussion and questions raised have offered ‘food for thought’ for the presenters and will no doubt help us to shape future study ideas and generate new ideas for research.  In fact, one of the key challenges has been keeping within the allocated time for the session as there has been so much discussion!

The sessions are facilitated by Dr Michelle Heward (Post-Doctoral Research Fellow and ADRC Service User and Carer Involvement Lead) and Caroline Jones (ADRC Administrator). On reflection it has been beneficial to have two facilitators; one to lead the session and the other to be on hand to help with IT issues and check the chat messages. We also offer support for people who have had little or no experience of using ZOOM beforehand to make sure they are comfortable using the technology and its functions prior to attending a session.

We acknowledge that the idea for the virtual coffee morning was drawn through our collaborative working with the Wessex Public Involvement Network (PIN), who shared their successes and experiences of developing a similar engagement model with us. This work has also been undertaken in consultation with BU Public Involvement in Education and Research partnership to ensure we are following current policy/procedures.

Although we recognise that not everyone is able to access the internet from home, we will continue to offer these sessions for the foreseeable future as they provide an alternative to those who may find it more difficult to travel or take part in our existing face- to-face approaches. Anyone interested in presenting their ideas or research in ageing or dementia that might be of interest to the group please contact Michelle to discuss.”

BU Research Matters: the evolution of research during a global pandemic – joining our research community

Dr Marc Vander Linden - Bournemouth University Staff Profile PagesThis week on the Research Blog, we are exploring how our amazing community of researchers have evolved and adapted their research activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Dr Marc Vander Linden, who joined BU in March 2020 as part of the creation of the Institute for the Modelling of Socio-Environmental Transitions starts the mini-series off. Below, Marc shares his reflections, details how he has adapted and explains why we still need face-to-face interaction: 

“A year ago, I joined Bournemouth University as a senior lecturer within the newly created Institute for the Modelling of Socio-Environmental Transitions (IMSET). Obviously, the prospect of a national lockdown was then looming closer and closer but I never thought that, several months later, I would still be a “virtual colleague”, delivering my – new-ish by now – duties from home and through the 13inch window of my laptop screen. We all have experienced first hand the challenges of the current situation. Being married to an academic and parent of two (very resilient, I must proudly add!) children, it goes without saying that home-schooling has taken its toll on working conditions. These have not been ideal to discover and manage the many administrative and teaching tasks incurred by a new job. In this sense, doing research has been indeed a challenge, but overall less a luxury than a necessary intellectual lifeline.

I am an archaeologist working on past population history, and long-term human-environment interactions, especially the mechanisms and consequences of the introduction and development of early farming techniques across Europe. My research covers multiple facets, each having been affected in different ways by COVID-19. The most-well-known, “romantic” thing about being an archaeologist is the field, in my case digging in caves in Montenegro. Obviously, with travel bans and the local hardships of the pandemic, any form of fieldwork has been impossible to undertake. As I was about to start surveying a new region, the lack of fieldwork not only has an immediate effect upon my research, but will also have negative repercussions felt over several years to come as I cannot dig new sites, identify new research problems and apply for corresponding funding. Yet, this unexpected pause also offered opportunities to revisit and complete older work, and prepare it for final publication thanks to a collective effort involving former post-docs, PhD students, and local Serbian and Montenegrin collaborators.

Another part of my research draws on legacy data, which is assembling, compiling and analysing datasets from published and unpublished literature. This includes, among others, collating information scattered in a multitude of individual reports related to changes in past farming regimes (e.g. presence of certain crops and weeds, or the preference for particular animal domesticates, or the contribution of hunting to the economy). The resulting “big data” not only constitute the empirical baseline for a range of analyses, but these results can also be used by collaborators from disciplines that consider estimates of anthropogenic activity (e.g. anthropogenic land cover models). Such multi-layered work is only possible by being part of an extensive international network of researchers, meeting regularly in a virtual world of Zoom meetings, shared folders, google documents, sometimes spiced up by the pleasure of doodle polls to identify the right meeting slot across multiple time zones. In many respects, the COVID-19 induced familiarity of online platforms and tools has bolstered this dimension of my research and made me more open to new collaborations.

This being said, the picture is not entirely rosy and, in so many ways, I’d say the most difficult part has actually been to become a BU colleague. After all, it is difficult to lose sight, when constantly stuck at home in front of a laptop, that you’re part of a new institution, with rules to follow and timelines to respect. As part of IMSET, “older hands” have provided outstanding support to us newbies, and lots of energy has gone into creating and maintaining contact through weekly – virtual obviously – lab meetings. Though we’ve made huge strides to come together as a group, the biggest drawback still remains to not being able to pop in someone’s office for advice or a simple chat. Online collaboration presents numerous advantages when relying upon and interacting with a huge body of collaborators and, arguably, my research has developed well despite, if not thanks, to the “new normal” imposed by COVID-19.

Yet, I’m desperately craving for the inherent simplicity and spontaneity of unplanned interactions with talented colleagues for diverse scientific horizons, those simple moments which, in my experience, are so essential in generating successful, innovative and fun research”.


University research and post-pandemic recovery: a call to action for us all?

Transforming critical thinking and creativity: On Monday’s blog post, we explored the critical role that universities play in the generation of knowledge through research, which in-turn enriches society through myriad mechanisms, including through education, enhanced professional practice, discovery and innovation. As we saw, the Humboldtian model of higher education has persisted, with many attributing the intensification of research – going beyond vocational training – to the paradigm shifts associated with the work of Hegel, Freud and Einstein amongst others. Albert Einstein writes out an equation for the density of the Milky Way on the blackboard in 1931Indeed, the model was adopted by many universities around the world, including Johns Hopkins University through the recognition that through increased research activity came myriad benefits for society.

How has this philosophical understanding of what a university is, made the world a better place? Transforming society, not just through the creation of knowledge – but more fundamentally – through the principles of research that stimulate creativity and critical thinking, has led to immeasurable benefits for us globally. Many readers will have benefited from a transformative education from going to University and we all benefit daily from the research environment which Universities create. There is seldom an item we touch, or an experience we interact with, that does not have some connection to university research.

The Made at Uni campaign highlights just a few of these; providing clean water to rural communities in the developing worldusing the arts to transform health and wellbeing, and the development of the MRI scanner. Indeed, for the REF2014 submission, UK Universities submitted thousands of impact case studies, each and every one of them a snapshot of internationally excellent research with a transformative impact. You can search the database for any topic which interests you.

I highly recommend doing so, as they offer a fascinating insight into the trajectory of research careers and how they transform our lives. University of Bristol’s research into reducing cot deaths is one story that stays with me – you cannot help but marvel at the lives that have been transformed as a result of it. The ESRC’s Impact Awards celebrates inspiring colleagues whose fundamental research has contributed to profound social impact. 

Image result for emma renold esrc impact prize

But why does doing research matter, just now? Amid a global pandemic, many of us (whilst cognisant of our privilege) are living a challenging existence, whether that is owing to our caring responsibilities, increased work pressures, the pressure on our mental health, or the daily monotony of lockdown restrictions. Finding space for critical thinking and creativity is hugely challenging. That said, developing research has never been more important. As we have seen, the UK has been a world leader in developing vaccinations and genomic sequencing – all thanks to the world-leading research base we host on our shores.

But in many ways, the challenging research questions are just beginning. I am sure that you, like me, will find yourselves asking seemingly unanswerable questions: “how do we enable the NHS workforce to recover from the relentless pressures they have faced? How can our children successfully re-engage with learning? What the advanced materials of the future that will keep surfaces safe? Which tools that government has to offer will be most transformative to our deprived communities? How have the arts transformed as a result of the pandemic? How will society evolve over the next generation in response to the pandemic? The questions are endless, yet so important to garner insight on, if we are to address them. Future research will unlock these.

Will the government support research given the pressures on our economy? The current UK government has consistently reiterated that the UK’s recovery from the pandemic – the full impacts of which are far from fully understood – will be predicated on research. For example, the UK’s R&D Roadmap states that: “Research and development will be critical to economic and social recovery from the impacts of COVID-19, enabling us to build a greener, healthier and more resilient UK” which builds on previous policy documentation including the Industrial Strategy (which mentions Universities no less than 100 times).

This is coupled up with the government’s stance on ‘levelling-up’ across the UK, which in research terms, means ensuring that our research base outside of the golden triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge is strengthened. The Roadmap goes on to articulate that “our R&D system will have a bigger impact on the recovery and long-term economic growth and prosperity if it can unlock the potential found in more areas of the UK”. For areas of lower research intensity, such as Dorset, this offers us the opportunity to grow our capabilities exponentially, especially in existing research bases such as BU. Of course, we do not yet know what details of the opportunities that are coming our way, but the government has already committed £15billion for R&D this year, so there is likely to be funding to make the rhetoric a reality.Image result for bournemouth university research

What does this mean for your average academic? No academic is average. To have become an independent researcher, you will have demonstrated countless times your capabilities for pioneering research. This may only represent a small part of any puzzle, but it is an essential one, as no-one else will have the insight or the abilities that you have to offer. Granted, finding the opportunity to explore your research ideas, alone – and perhaps more crucially with others – can be very challenging at this time.

My lockdown experience is punctuated with the demands of a 5-year-old demanding snacks and refusals to undertake phonics homework, which makes it extremely challenging just to think, let alone act. But knowing how many brilliant minds I work with day in, day out at BU, I urge you to carve out the space that you can and allow yourself to think about how your research capabilities can be harnessed. Image result for bournemouth university research

Isn’t research just going to be about COVID-19 from now on? In summary, no. The pandemic has created new challenges, but all areas of research are critical for the recovery from it. Climate change, as just one example, has not gone away – it is imperative for our researchers to continue their work on this. Research that doesn’t obviously fit a great societal challenge at present is also important; as you see if you’ve read as many impact case studies that I have, it is pursuing the intellectual curiosity and passion for your subject that lays the foundation for what our society needs in future, not just what we think we need now.

In our next blog post, we will explore some of the challenges that we have faced undertaking research in the time of COVID-19 and look to the future of research at BU. In the meantime, as ever, the RDS team are delighted to offer support for you to develop your research trajectory. Next month, I will be launching a call for game-changing research concepts that will enable BU to grow. If you would like to explore this further, or would like to discuss ways in which we can carve out the space to have more discussion around transformative research ideas, please do drop me a line.